Protecting both the environment and one’s own health whilst also securing cotton yields or even increasing one’s income – is that possible? Hariet Muhindo, cotton farmer in the Nyamirangara village in Uganda, wondered the same. Then she attended the trainings that are an integral element of the Cotton made in Africa (CmiA) program, where she learned that it is possible – and how it is.
“Thanks to the Cotton made in Africa farmer trainings, I have learnt how to use less pesticides and how to handle them correctly”, reports Hariet. Pesticides usually are an integral part of conventional cotton cultivation, as they shield the plants from pests and hence avoid crop shortfalls. Through farmer trainings, on the other hand, CmiA farmers like Hariet Muhindo learn that the utilisation of pesticides is not always necessary, that there are alternative solutions to fighting pests and that there is a number of precautions to take when handling pesticides.
Since she became a participant in the CmiA program, Hariet works according to the threshold principle. This means that she checks the degree of pest infestation on her field and only applies pesticides when the amount of pests exceeds a certain limit. In this, it is especially important to differentiate between pests and beneficiaries – another learning that Hariet took away from the farmer trainings. In agriculture, insects that are natural enemies of pests are designated beneficiaries, since they help protect the farmer’s yields. Thanks to the knowledge she acquired, Hariet can now use considerably less pesticides, protect beneficiaries on her cotton field and therein obtain higher yields.
In the farmer trainings, Hariet also learned about alternative methods for protecting her fields. Now she knows what kinds of organic pesticides there are and how to construct simple traps made of available means like molasses. Such alternatives have a triple benefit for Hariet: they are locally attainable and cost very little, which allows her to decrease her expenses. On top of that, they are natural, thus protecting the environment, and effective in protecting her yields. When Hariet Muhindo still uses pesticides, these are classified according to international conventions and therefore regulated and controlled by the CmiA standard. The rules are strict: All pesticides that are listed by the Rotterdam Protocol and/or the Stockholm Convention and/or classified as extremely hazardous by the World Health Organisation (WHO) are prohibited. Any violation of these restrictions leads to the exclusion from the CmiA program.
Hariet Muhindo is aware of the dangers and effects of certain pesticides. To protect herself and her family in the best way possible, she learned a lot about the deliberate, safe and health preserving handling of pesticides. For instance, she now stores containers with plant protection products out of children’s reach and disposes empty containers appropriately. “And I now know that it’s important to wear protective clothing when applying pesticides on my cotton field”, she adds. “I now use an overall or long-sleeved shirt, a pair of trousers and face mask when applying pesticides.”
With the aim of continuously and sustainably reducing the utilisation of dangerous pesticides on the cotton field, Cotton made in Africa therefore follows an approach of dialogue and sensitisation through its farmer trainings and offers smallholder farmers a variety of practical alternative methods and solutions.